Songs, shows part of tradition

I think I’m Christmas conflicted.

Assaulted all day by music media with Christmas themes and all evening with movie and TV show depictions of the holiday, I’m probably not alone when I say it sinks into your consciousness and maybe begins to get on your nerves a little before it’s all over.

On the one hand are the serious traditional offerings such as “Silver Bells,” “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn” and “Miracle on 45th Street.” On the other hand is “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” “Merry Christmas From the Family,” A Christmas Story and “Christmas Vacation.”

Somewhere in between the two extremes is the meat of holiday tradition for my generation and later. Annual TV specials and movies make the season complete. Those just-for-fun holiday offerings have become a part of our culture and each has its own interesting history. For instance:

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — Started out as a poem penned in 1939 by an advertising copywriter working for Montgomery Ward. The company handed out printed versions of the story about a misfit reindeer who saves Christmas.

The first person to formally record the song by the same name was singing cowboy Gene Autry in 1949. The song was the second best selling record of all time until the 1980s. The television special done in jerky stop-animation debuted on NBC in 1964.

“Frosty the Snowman” — Written by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson with the idea of following up on Autry’s hit with “Rudolph” the previous year, Autry was convinced to record the song in 1950. A three-minute animated cartoon was produced in 1954 and aired on a few stations including WGN-TV Chicago. In 1969 the 30-minute animated version that aired for years premiered featuring the distinctive voice of Jimmy Durante as narrator.

“A Christmas Story” — Even though the film came out in 1983 the roots to the story set in the late 1930s or early 1940s goes back to the 1960s. Author Jean Shepherd published three semi-autobiographical short stories that the film was based on between 1964 and 1966 in Playboy magazine. He also used parts of the story in college lecture tours and read some of the stories on radio.

The 1983 movie debuted to lukewarm success and wasn’t given much critical acclaim. Over the years the critique of the film has slowly risen to the point where it’s now often mentioned as one of the best of 1983.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” — Based on the popular Peanuts comic strip, the 30-minute made for TV special debuted in 1965 on CBS and aired there every year until 2000 when it began showing on ABC.

The show carried as its theme the over-commercialization of Christmas. Television executives feared they had a flop on their hands with the absence of a laugh-track and the use of jazz in the soundtrack. They also doubted the wisdom of using children as the characters voices instead of adult actors.

Linus’ reading of the story of the nativity straight from the King James version of the Gospel of Luke also made the execs nervous. Peanuts creator Charles Schultz said: “if we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas who will?”

The show won an Emmy and a Peabody and is still airing 45 years later.

I guess even the lighter side can sometimes be pretty heavy during the Christmas season.